How to come up with column ideas? A good podcast helps pull at the threads.

I’ve already told you that I’m a diner guy. I used to be a saloon guy, too. But now I’m a diner guy. Both are good places to hear stories.

But I can drive home from a diner without anxiety. And the other day at my friend Jimmy Banakis’ place, Juicy-O’s in Downers Grove, the guys were sitting around, and the question came up again:

How does a columnist come up with ideas?

Talking with people helps. Listening to what they say always helps, no matter whether they’re agreeing or disagreeing with me. I don’t like it when they’re barking at me, drool dripping from their teeth, like some of the little barking doggie trolls on Twitter. Go ahead and bark little doggies. That’s not talking. That’s rabies.

But talking with smart people who ask good questions about an idea, people who pull on the threads of an idea is vitally important to a writer. It’s like cold water to a man in the desert. The people who pull threads are like water bearers.

Now that I’m here, my own boss at, I miss talking to smart people every day at “the paper.” I deeply miss knocking on the office doors of former colleagues like Kristen McQueary or John McCormick and kicking ideas around.

It happens these days when I’m at the diner with the guys, or talking with Steve the Pilot, a legendary fisherman and thread puller. Or when I’m on the radio with Dan Proft. He pulls at the threads of argument. That’s what writers need.

And being a guest on a good podcast, being asked questions by smart people focuses the mind. I’m sure some writers are so smart and focused that their ideas spring fully formed from their foreheads. But I’m not Zeus. The only Zeus I know has four legs and searches out sun squares on the floor.

Megyn Kelly asked me excellent questions about Chicago on her podcast, The Megyn Kelly Show. She knew the city and we talked about the violence and where that ‘ll go. The ideas generated on it found their way into columns.

Just the other day my friend Tom Bevan, the co-founder of the, asked me on his podcast, the Tom Bevan Show which also runs Sunday on WLS AM 890.

He had to push the recording time back because President Joe Biden was about to speak to the nation on Afghanistan. We discussed Biden’s watery eyed address on his show. We talked about how the president read that teleprompter, it looked as if he was just making sounds, as if he were a foreign actor, like Yoko Shimada, speaking phonetically.

And out of that talk with Tom came the column the other day, “The One Thing Keeping Biden in Office.”

Bevan was kind enough to pick it up for Real Clear. He just messaged me saying it was the most read piece on his website.

My friend Jeff Carlin, co-host on our own podcast, The Chicago Way, is a great puller of threads. We were talking the other day about the city unmoored, and all the race-based rhetoric about to come in the ethnic fight over the remapping of Chicago’s 50 wards.

We talked of Mayor Lori Lightfoot having to decide if she’ll just give up and hand the mayor’s office to Arne Duncan, the “White Shadow” of the Obama Machine, or decide to reverse her Incredible Shrinking Mayor act and seek re-election.

But to do that she’ll have to kiss the ring of her bitter rival, Toni Preckwinkle, president of the county board, and chair of the Cook County Democratic Organization.

Her lips might freeze to Toni’s ring. Jeff and I decided she’d look like the little kid who licked the frozen pole in “A Christmas Story.” We thought of her stuck there, on Toni’s ring, waving her arms in panic. It would make a great Scott Stantis cartoon.

I’m writing that one now. And I might use that bit about the waving arms again.

It’s not science. It’s alchemy.

You just listen to people, in a saloon, in a diner, on a podcast.

That’s how it works.


(Copyright 2021 John Kass)

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